As a seven-year veteran, a senior and a home care worker, I know how important it is to celebrate not only the independence that makes our country great but the independence we all strive toward as we age — or watch our loved ones age — and try to balance doing right for ourselves and for our community. To maintain that independence, we must work with federal legislators, agencies, care workers and consumers to create a long-term care system that works for all of us and supports the lifelong cycle of caring while working to strengthen our economy at the same time.
Independence Day is a time of year to think about how we all want to age with comfort and freedom and how we as a nation can better promote independence among the elderly, the disabled and the professional home care workers that work to support them.
Every eight seconds, another American turns 65. In the next 10 years alone, 79 million Americans will become senior citizens. While we don’t have enough home health care workers to meet even current demands, studies suggest that we’ll need an additional 1.6 million elder care workers by 2020, according to the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute.
This is more than just a challenge. It is an opportunity: to meet the needs of our aging population while creating good jobs that are, literally, right here at home. It’s part of all of our jobs as independent citizens of society to help plan a sustainable future for our disabled population and the aging generation. We need a stable and well-trained workforce of caregivers to support senior citizens, as well as people with disabilities and other care consumers who deserve the freedom to live at home with dignity and respect while getting the help they need.
We may not be able to put a care worker in every home, but we can ensure that every home that needs a care worker has access to quality support at an affordable price. And we can help create a strong, regulated care workforce with overtime and minimum wage protections for the people whose work makes all other work possible. That is the true hallmark of an independent society: when people have the resources and support they need to make their lives better.
We must work harder to make care jobs good jobs, where workers have access to training and advancement opportunities, a roadmap toward citizenship for those who need it and a living wage so they can care for their own families as well. The people who care for our loved are too often caught in an unregulated system making below-poverty wages with few — if any — benefits. It’s time that our laws and our public consciousness caught up to protect the millions of Americans who need care and the millions of workers who provide it.
The care economy is also about consumers: the millions of elderly and disabled Americans who rely on in-home care to live their lives and the families who support them. We must also improve access to home- and community-based services for those Americans, ensuring that home care is affordable and available to all and that those receiving care are empowered to make their own decisions about whom they employ as their caregiver.
Independence Day is a good time to barbeque and enjoy time with family, but it’s also a great day to reflect on and support the changes we need to help us truly protect the independence of every American who needs at-home care. Today, we’re asking Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Angus King, I-Maine, and their colleagues in Congress to stand with us and work together to create a sustainable legislative approach toward long-term care. The first step is to support Senate Resolution 128, which calls for a comprehensive strategy to improve long-term services and supports for consumers and workers. Moving forward, let us all use this holiday to recommit ourselves to protecting our critical care workforce and the millions of friends, family and neighbors who rely on it.
For our 12th annual July 4th Solidarity Celebration, we will be honoring the freedom that caregivers give to the elderly and disabled. The public is welcome to this event, which starts at 6 p.m. at the Solidarity Center at 20 Ivers St., Brewer, and which features local food, speakers and a great local band, the Crown Vics. For more information, please call 989-5860 or email email@example.com.
Ted Rippy is a board member of Food AND Medicine and a 30-year home care worker.